Ubuntu chief: Oracle Linux has 'tactical value'

Oracle could benefit from offering its own Linux, according to Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth.

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Oracle has the ability to support Linux, and doing so could have "tactical value" for the database company, the founder of Ubuntu Linux--and a potential Oracle partner--said Friday.

"I don't think Oracle is going to make large amounts of money selling support for Linux. I don't think it will ever be a high-margin, high-profit, exciting growth business for them. It's becoming more and more of a commodity," Mark Shuttleworth, founder and chief executive of Ubuntu developer Canonical, told CNET News.com on Friday.

"But that doesn't mean there isn't some tactical value to them in influencing or playing in the space," he said.

Shuttleworth, speaking on the eve of the Oracle OpenWorld conference, wouldn't comment on a report that Oracle plans to use Ubuntu Linux or on whether Canonical is working on a partnership. Christopher Kenyon, Canonical's business development manager, earlier said Oracle makes sure its free 10G Express database software works on Ubuntu Linux, but stopped short of saying the two are certified to work together.

However, Shuttleworth did offer the view that Oracle probably isn't in a rush to a tighter Linux embrace. "I wouldn't be expecting any radical announcements on any kind of time scale," he said.

His opinion contrasts with that of Katherine Egbert, a Jefferies and Co. analyst who last week said in a report, "We think Oracle could introduce either a dedicated hardware appliance with a pre-loaded software stack, or a soft appliance bundle during the upcoming OracleWorld show, or the associated investor day on Oct. 26th."

Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison ignited Linux speculation in April when he declared that he wanted a "full stack" of software and that Oracle might support or bundle Linux.

An Oracle version of Linux could pose challenges to the top Linux seller, Red Hat. But it's not clear customers are eager for the idea: Oracle's 1999 "Raw Iron" plan, which combined Oracle's database with an embedded operating system and server hardware, fizzled.

Using Linux as a tactical tool has precedents, Shuttleworth said, pointing to the business relationships between Red Hat and server sellers. He didn't call out specifics, but one example is Dell's choice to resell relatively inexpensive Suse Linux Enterprise Server from Novell while dinging Red Hat for being too expensive.

"If you look at the relationship with the largest hardware vendors and Red Hat, there's a very clear tactical game going on," Shuttleworth said, even though the hardware companies don't sell their own versions of Linux. "It could quite easily cost Oracle a lot less to have a similar tactical influence on the market. They may just choose to take a different strategy to achieving that."

Oracle didn't respond to requests for comment. However, Canonical's efforts to enter the server market have not gone unnoticed at Oracle.

Justin Kestelyn, editor-in-chief of the Oracle Technology Network, noted on his blog when an Ubuntu billboard advertisement arrived on Highway 101 near the exit for Oracle's Redwood Shores, Calif., headquarters.

Shuttleworth, though, said the placement was merely based on the location's traffic jam likelihood.

Releasing a version of Linux tailored to its own needs could be an example of Oracle using the principles of the open-source and free software movement to change the competitive rules for proprietary and open-source software companies alike, Shuttleworth said.

"I certainly think Oracle has the skills and capacity to do a good job supporting the parts of Linux that Oracle itself requires," Shuttleworth said. "It would send a clear message to the market that the Linux game is different compared to the Windows game and the AIX game and the Solaris game."

Linux players would pay attention, too. "Think of it as a bit of a reality check for the Linux market," he said of the possibility.

And despite Oracle's status as a powerful proprietary software company, Shuttleworth also appears happy to see Oracle as an ally with open-source Linux.

"This is free software, and it is ultimately about paying for the services you specifically need," Shuttleworth said. "That is a very good message, and it would be very smart of Oracle to send that message specifically."